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Had you forgotten that Belgium¹ has been operating without a government for six months? Me, too.  One man, however, has bravely stepped up to heal the rift:

One of Belgium’s best-known actors, Benoit Poelvoorde, has urged his fellow citizens not to shave again until the country finally forms a government.

Poelvoorde, star of black comedy Man Bites Dog and costume drama Coco Before Chanel, made his appeal on Belgian TV.

A caretaker government has been running Belgium since June, setting a post-war record for a period without government.

Parties from the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south remain split.

“Don’t be surprised by the stubble,” said Poelvoorde.

“We have decided to stop shaving for as long as Belgium has no government. Let’s keep our beards until Belgium rises again.”

Personally, I’ve always thought the whole concept of “Belgium” to be a mistake, much like the attempt to cobble together a big chunk of the other end of Europe and call it “Yugoslavia”.   My vote would be to form two countries, Flanders and Wallonia, and to sink Brussels altogether.

¹Hoopy froods who sass that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will see, of course, that I am gratuitously using the word “Belgium” in a serious blogpost, so perhaps may win an award for it.

Damian Thompson on a practice I’ve always loathed, both in my former life as a Palie and now as an RC:

Hardline traddies whose blood freezes as they hear the words “Let us offer…” face a dilemma: do they extend a hand while inwardly cringing, or do they risk appearing rude by refusing to take part? Indeed, is there a polite way of ducking out of the sign of peace?

I reckon the answer to that question is no. True, you won’t cause offence if you pretend to faint or fake a heart attack at the appropriate moment, but that definitely comes under the heading of stunts you can only pull once.

At this point I have to make a confession: most of the time I like the sign of peace, so long as the twinkly-eyed celebrant doesn’t turn it into an excuse for working the room, Bill Clinton-style. There are worse things than being forced to show cordiality to a stranger, and being on the receiving end of it can be unexpectedly cheering. Also, there’s nothing more infuriating than turning to your neighbour only to find that they’ve sunk to their knees in prayer – the most common traddie escape route. The last time it happened to me, I felt like taking my outstretched fingers and strangling the woman with her mantilla.

I still just grin and bear it when at RFEC, especially since we almost always know everyone sitting about us.  On the other hand, I am generally able to duck it at Mass, since it isn’t part of the Tridentine practice, and on those occassions when I can’t make the nooner, I usually hit the 7:45 AM, which is a stripped down, no musick, no frills affair designed to get people in and out p.d.q.

Actually, an even more horrid practice is the holding of hands during the Our Father (which does not happen at RFEC or in my Mass, but which I see a lot of when I visit other parishes, such as the one I haunt on summah vac in Maine).  That is something I first, last and always point-blank refuse to do, and I have had to glare at people more than once as they sought to glom on to my mitts, sometimes even snapping their fingers at me.  Feh.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!  My apologies for the uncharacteristic silence over the past few days: I came down with my first bout of  ‘flu of the season last week, causing me to spend about 46 hours in bed over the weekend.  Then it was off on another biznay trip to the Great Midwest on Monday (still with the ‘flu).  This is the third winter I’ve traveled out there.  It sure snows an awful lot, don’t it.

Nonetheless, I am home again, home again and seem to have managed to jiggity-jig the ‘flu, so here we are.

And zo, what better way to get back into things than to take a few drops from the fetid pool of Robbo’s thought, put them under the old microscope, and see what kinds of creepy-crawlies are swimming about:

**Although I don’t normally comment on political matters here, I can’t help first saying a word or two about that shooting in Tucson over the weekend.  First, I found myself praying for those poor souls killed, including especially that little girl.  I also found myself praying for the recovery of those wounded, plus thankful that the representative shot through the head looks like she’s going to make it.   Second, however, I must say I am thoroughly disgusted by the political hay Certain Persons are attempting to make of all this.  The shooter was is a lunatic, plain and simple.  Rational ideologies do not apply.  End of story.  Third, I heard some daft congressperson on teh radio this morning proposing a law that would ban the carrying of handguns within a thousand feet of our elected representatives (or, if you prefer, the Elect).  Yes, that’d slow the crazies down.  Why, if we had already had a law of that sort, I can just see the Tucson fellah twirling his mustachios in baffled fury and saying to himself, “Damn! If it weren’t for that prohibition….I’d really show everyone a thing or two!” [Sarcasm function /off]

**Well, anyway…..

**As I mentioned, I was out in the Midwest again.  Our travels involve flying into Chi and then driving west.  As we crossed the Fox and Rock Rivers this time around, and because I had just been reading about it again, I regaled my companions with the story of the Outagamie and Muscoutin tribes that inhabited these river valleys back in the day, paying particular attention to their combined raid on the newly-founded fort at Detroit in 1712, a raid that was soundly thrashed by a confederation of other tribes of teh Great Lakes, plus the small French garrison occupying the place.  Well, I thought it was interesting…..

**Monday happened to be the eleventh birthday of the middle gel, while this coming Friday will be the ninth of the youngest.  Tempus fugit, indeed.  Both gels (much to the ire of the elder, whose idea it was), have opted out of parties this year and instead are each going to take a friend to tea at the Ritz (not at the same time, of course). For some reason, the idea of that lot, particularly the younger one, loose among the strawberries and cucumber sammiches summons up visions not so much of bulls but of orangutans in china shops.  Perhaps it’s best that I’m not a witness (and am not identified in publick with the perpetrators).

**Over the years, I’ve noticed that some people seem shocked that I refer to my offspring, when strongly moved, as orangutans, baboons or other primates.  Or, when they are squabbling, as a flock of seagulls fighting over a dead crab.  Am I so very wrong?

**Oh, and it’s just “tea”.  Or, if you like, “afternoon tea”.  “High Tea” is something else completely, and the careless interchange of these terms acts like a canker-sore on ol’ Robbo’s sensibilities.

**Speaking of tea, I read somewhere or other not too long ago that the practice of drinking tea came to England with the Portugese wife of Charles II.  I suppose it gave her something to do whilst the Merry Monarch was out whooping it up with Nell Gwynn.   Funny, but I’ve always felt a certain indulgence toward ol’ Charles and his high, wide and handsome ways that I don’t usually lend to other, well, libertines.  I suppose this is because I feel that he went through such a hell of a time in his younger days thanks to that rat-bastard Cromwell that he had every right to live it up when he finally attained the Crown.

**Speaking of the gels and their birthdays, each of them is also a Lego enthusiast and has spent a wodge of birthday dosh acquiring new sets.  I am somewhat gob-smacked at the variety of specialized Lego kits available these days (not to mention at their prices!).  The middle gel in particular has a positive Metropolis growing up in her room.  I suppose it is a sign of my age that whenever she invites me to view her latest piece of handiwork, I am strongly tempted to point out that in my day we didn’t have any of these fancy-shmancy designer sets, but had to use our imaginations to create things out of plain old squares and rectangles.  After milking a hundred cows.  And walking barefoot through the snow to school.  Four miles.  Uphill.  Both ways.

**Of course, I usually save my breath.  Not because my sentiment is wrong, but rayther because I have become increasingly aware that regardless of what I say, what the gels actually hear is uniformly something akin to the Teacher’s voice in the old Charlie Brown cartoons, a la, “Whah-whu-whah-whah-whah.”

**Howsomever, I hit a nifty t’other day.  Said middle gel came to me complaining that her younger sistah had been looking at her new Lego condo (or whatever it was)….before she had finished building it! (Just as an aside to an aside, there is an aria in Handel’s oratorio Jephtha entitled “Scenes of horror, scenes of woe” that always floats across my mind when I receive such complaints.)  Anyhoo, before she could work herself up, I gave the gel the eye and said, “You mean she was getting her eye-prints all over it?”  Stopped her in her tracks, that one did.

**I mention my dislike of the term “high tea”.  This is part of my general aversion to linguistic puffery.  Nice people just don’t do that.  In fact, one of my least-favorite words in the language is “prestige” and its various forms.  Did you know that it actually comes from a French root associated with fraud and deceit?  To me, that speaks volumes about the sort of things to which it’s usually applied.  And about the sort of people who are taken in by it.

**Finally, I recently discovered – much to my amazement – that the Mothe sent out Family Newsletters to her friends this year.  I can tell you that the Mothe and I have very similar senses of humor and that the Mothe has attained that delightful age and station at which she doesn’t really give a damn what anyone thinks, so you can just imagine what the contents of said letter are like.  Almost concurrently, I also received an absolutely hysterical family newsletter from our dear friend of the decanter, Jordana.  Together, these examples have made clear to me that there is a whole, virgin field of literary amusement that heretofore (“heretofore, mark you”***) I have completely overlooked.  Well, I am telling you here and now that ol’ Robbo intends to take a whack at it in Anno Domini 2011.   I doubt very much whether the product of my own fevered imagination would pass the gentle censorship of Mrs. Robbo for the main stack of family gunnegshuns, but there’s nothing she can do about me distributing it amongst my own private correspondents.  In the words of Aunt Dahlia, “Yoiks! Hark forrard!”

***Spot the literary quote.  What’s been overlooked heretofore and who has done the overlooking?

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